As a former firefighter, security, and correctional officer, IT, and bachelors degree holder in Safety and loss prevention engineering, I am acutely aware of the vital importance of communication in the modern world. Not only are radio and mobile phone communications convenient at conventions and large activities, they are vital to the point where not having access to them on at least an official level is widely considered negligent. The ability to reach out for help, of course is vital, but also the ability to convey real-time information to large groups of people across a large site is vital to help assure a smooth day, weekend, or even multiple weeks of activity. This reality is understood in both official and unofficial capacities across the world. The federal Incident Command System has a dedicated communications officer built into its design. Large scale conventions, auctions, and trade shows incorporate PA systems, large signs, or even outdoor projectors to help direct hundreds, or even thousands of people. Whole industries currently exist to feed the technical hardware needs of communication at every level and capacity.
And it is not that the need to communicate is in any way, shape or form new. History is replete with thousands of incidents where the very shape of events would have been very different if one critical message made it at the right time, or had not made it at all. Some of the warfare’s greatest leaders were noted for their ability to command at distance, thanks in part to their schemes of communications. Reference materials abound to the ever increasing resources that generals, lords, and kings put into their communication efforts, be that signal flags, skilled horses, lanterns, or just loud people.
In the SCA today, event stewards across the known world assume the unique responsibility of running events in modern circumstances, with modern understandings and sensibilities, but tackling those same hurdles with only traditional resources whenever practical. By whatever happenstance we want to call it, the title and role of voice herald has picked up the mantles that mundanely are handled by PA systems, scoreboards, and megaphones. We, as a society, have chosen to invest the extra effort into helping preserve the medieval ambiance by asking people and not technology to announce court, call the lysts, cry the site.
But we are not investing enough into it.
It has been my observation that this vital trade, whose role is positive and important without question, is increasingly being pushed aside, delayed, or ignored outright, treated as a second-hand duty.
The benchmarks for this are stark in their display.
Were a modern Fire Engine’s radio to fail, the whole apparatus would be pulled from service until the equipment was fixed, or replaced (if only temporarily).
Yet repeatedly, coordinating heralds (also called Heralds in Charge) are left unnamed until weeks or even months after the event is announced and the steward named. In some cases, they are not even named until days before the event, if at all. This scheduling robs them of vital time to recruit help (both locally and regionally), coordinate, and plan.
Modern scoreboards at sporting events are tested and repaired weekly, and at times daily in order to assure that audiences have access to the information conveyed. These tools, though hardly glorious, are seen as vital to the event, and the technicians who maintain them are understood to be critical to success.
However, over the years far, far too many tournaments leave the name of the coordinating lyst herald undecided until days or even hours before the tournament. Many are so understaffed that fighters step in to cry the rounds. And yet, time and time again, interested parties are heard to ask at meetings where and when they can learn to lyst herald, and are only provided with vague directions of who might be some place the day of the event. At the same time the most capable heralds on site aren’t even aware of the need, and otherwise obligated when help is called for at the last minute.
Modern PA systems, especially in schools and large buildings, are tested as part of the building’s emergency systems, and are now integrated into the automated alarms that help guide people to safety during a fire or other life threatening incident. Announcements at conventions can bolster activity attendance, calm rowdy crowds, and even preempt disaster before an emergency response is needed.
As a veteran site herald in the kingdom, and five time site herald for Gulf Wars, it has been to my horror to hear people, peers, leaders, and decision makers openly advocate for the dissolution of site heraldry at the the second largest event in the SCA. Attitudes both hostile towards, and dismissive of site heraldry as a concept existed, and still persist at interkingdom, kingdom, regional, and local levels. And even when the need for announcements are recognized, again the roll is often times haphazardly tossed off towards a single person, late enough in the process to rob them of vital planning and recruiting time. Untrained, unprepared, and often times tired people volunteer to walk long distances and shout loud statements without even basic training in projection or phrasing. Messages are garbled, people are further tired out, and volunteers learn that site heraldry is a chore that has to be done, rather than a have the chance to see it as a functional, vital part of an event’s communications.
If we are to draw any lessons from our modern experience, it is that the roll of communications is not something to be piecemealed haphazardly.
A single event, even a small one, has basic heraldic requirements that can be calculated. A site herald is needed for announcements, lyst heraldry services for the tournaments, and perhaps someone to add some flair to the evening feast by announcing the courses. And of course a herald for any courts. With tight scheduling, this could all be done by one or two people, at least with a small event. If you were to make it a larger event, with a larger tournament, and rapier and chivalric at the same time, that will require one herald for each tournament, and if there are enough fighters, you will need relief heralds to keep from exhausting someone. Larger still, and the tournaments could go to multiple fields, and the need for two heralds could double, or even triple. Mooneschadowe’s Triumph, and Namron protectorate are just two examples of events large enough to typically run four fields at a time. If you need to do mid-day announcements, then you have to have someone, or multiple someones, depending on how big site is, to do site heraldry as all of your lyst heralds are obligated. Come time for feast, there is a good chance that most of the heralds will be tired, some may even opt to sleep through feast, it's not unheard of. It's not even remotely unrealistic to suggest that another herald still would be employed for that role. Court, even for a small event, will need a court herald, and that is a skill set that is more often than not separate from those previously mentioned. A larger court could need two heralds, or even three if there is a long list of items to be attended to. If there is a royal presence, while the crowns will very likely bring their own herald, that herald will almost assuredly be coordinating with the local heralds.
If you factor all of that together, and consider the demands of a typical baronial level championship, that could mean as many as ten different heralds coordinating their time and efforts towards making the event run that much better. Every day that we take away from them to plan in advance is an obstacle that we willfully place between us and optimal success.
Most of these people, who have a specialized skill set, or are still learning that skill set, also have other interests. When we leave the details of heraldry to be figured out hours or even minutes before the event in question, we compel heralds and prospective heralds to either give up heraldry, or turn their back on other obligations that were already planned.
Every hurdle left in place is a disrespect to the veteran heralds who want to give of their time, and a discouragement to new and aspiring heralds who are chasing their personal dreams in the SCA though heraldry.
The responsibilities of voice heraldry should be spelled out in writing and clearly delegated out at the same time the remaining balance of event deputy stewards are named.
In the event these are unified under a single “herald in charge”, that person should be engaged and made knowledgeable of his responsibilities at the same time as the feast steward, or the gate steward or any other of the principle deputies.
If those roles are delegated out to others, (ex. lyst heraldry falling under the lyst mistress, site heraldry under the autocrat, feast heraldry under the feast steward, and Court heraldry left the sitting noble,) than those others need to even more vitally have written directions about these added duties, and if they themselves are not knowledgeable in the heraldic arts, they should be encouraged to name an appropriate deputy with all due speed.
But one thing that must be clear in this; there is no reason the staffing of heraldic duties should not be as thorough or planned for as a signup sheet to work gate, or serve tables, or clean the privies would be, and each of those lists clearly denotes the overall authority responsible for the job at hand.
And from a purely functional standpoint, heraldry, beyond being an art, a historical discipline, and an important part of the medieval era we work to recreate, is absolutely needed. Someone has to announce the paring at the lysts, someone has to call court, and someone has to do even the most rudimentary of site heralding at most events. Not to mention the need to convey information to attendees if something drastic changes.
There is already a group of people who have these skills, who want to use them, and who what to do the job well. For them, the dream is expressed a heraldry in a way no less vibrant than a fighter’s armor or an artisan’s creation. But they, like any other aspect of an event, need the ability to plan accordingly, and in advance.
When we take away time from our heralds, we take away their ability to prepare, to teach, to learn, and to succeed. That directly affects, and reflects on the quality of the event, and our character as event stewards and deputies. There truly is no way around that point.
When we wait until the last minute to talk about heralds, we are telling them they aren’t important, and that their Dream is not important, and that their contributions do not matter. While at the same time scrambling to find someone to do the job when it comes up.
We owe our heralds better than that.
We owe our events better than that.
We own ourselves better than that.
His Lordship Ivo Blackhawk
Kingdom of Ansteorra
"Long Live the King!"